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Delivering Smarter Systems

Your favorite apps and software programs are probably simple and intuitive, yet powerful. They can communicate with each other and share data.

Compare those with the applications you use at work. Not quite the same. Enterprise Systems Renewal (ESR) exists to fix that.   

How We Got Here and Where We’re Going

Applications like the financial and student information systems that keep campus running came online decades ago. Thanks to continual upgrades, lots of tinkering and countless customizations, they’re still in use today.   

Time takes a toll, however. “The thinking behind the systems dates back to 25 to 30 years ago,” explains Brian DeMeulle, director of architecture, innovation and infrastructure in IT Services. 

Additionally, the volume of data for which they were designed is just a fraction of today’s needs. Undergraduate enrollment has nearly doubled to close to 30,000, and financial turnover has quintupled to nearly $5B.  

There’s good news, though. “As we add or replace existing systems, we’re taking advantage of all those decades of experience and technological advances,” says DeMeulle 

Always the Latest Version 

UC San Diego will be converting to an “as a service” model for software applications, development platforms and infrastructure. You’re probably already familiar with this model. Gmail is an example. You could build your own email application and update it as technology evolves. Or you could sign up for Gmail and start sending email in about two minutes and never have to worry about system updates.  

DeMeulle describes a number of advantages to the "as a service" approach. First, software applications will benefit from continuous delivery, meaning we’ll always have access to the latest versions. They’ll be cloud-based and not installed on local machines. The software vendor will develop and deploy any upgrades, freeing up UC San Diego personnel.

This changes the very nature of the relationship to the product. “When we buy a service, we’ll be buying a set of features and capabilities that can evolve, not just a software package that remains static,” explains DeMeulle 

A similar approach applies to cloud-based infrastructure, like servers and data storage centers, providing maximum flexibility. DeMeulle says, “We’ll only be using the capacity that we need, but we’ll also be able to scale usage to a level that that is much more difficult to achieve on our own.”  

Following the "as a service" model means changes emphasizing configuration and relying less on customizationEach system comes with powerful out-of-the-box, or built-in, features. ESR project teams will configure systems to meet our specific needs, like data entry screens or workflow that aligns with our campus terminology and operational requirements. Customizations will be reserved for mission-critical needs that can’t otherwise be met.  

Staying Connected 

Wouldn’t it be great if our systems could share information? They will - through APIs, or application programming interfaces. APIs are conduits for information to flow between systems.   

A familiar example of APIs at work is when you use a single travel site to check fares from multiple airlines. APIs provide the information connections between the travel site and the airlines. Without APIs, you’d have to go directly to each individual airline's website to get fare information. Additionally, as long as the API is in place, the travel site and airlines can change out their infrastructure without having to re-program how they communicate externally.  

A network of APIs will connect our UC San Diego systems internally and externally in the same way. They’ll talk to each other in real time so users won’t have to download information from one source and upload it to another.  

One good example is the research administration system, which will directly populate a grant award into the financial system instead of someone manually updating each system.

Flexible and Future-Proof 

Add it all together and UC San Diego will become much nimbler.  “Use of APIs provides flexibility and agility,” explains DeMeulle.  “We’ll be able to modify applications and features with the least amount of effort.”  

Adds Kevin Chou, ESR program director, “We’ll be able to deliver solutions much faster than we can today. The approach will be modular and incremental, with a goal of quickly delivering value.” 

Speed and flexibility make the university more competitive and provide members of the UC San Diego community with the tools they need to be successful. 

Category: ESR Behind the Scenes